Review: SJ4000 HD Action Cam

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The SJCAM SJ4000 action camera comes in a box that has no branding or name printed any of the surfaces. Apart from “SPORTS HD DV water resistant 30m,” there is nothing telling you who made it… which is downright shady.

Pop it out of its box, and you will immediately recognize the design ‘inspiration’ for the camera. It is, for all intents and purposes, a knock-off GoPro, and as such, for the rest of this review it shall be called the FauxPro.

At around US$99.95, it’s a quarter of the price of a GoPro which could, depending on its capabilities, make it a proper bargain. That said, anyone who has ever bought a knock-off in the hope of saving a couple of bucks has ended up being bitten in the wallet when the product performs much worse than the marketing lines would suggest, and then eventually dies a month later.

So with that being said, nobody should be under any illusions that this will be a complete replacement for a proper GoPro, but if it can handle at least half the video quality, and a third of the usability and durability, It would be a worthwhile spend.

It works. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s a valid concern when buying a product that has been deliberately copied. That said, the SJ4000 is in fact the 4th camera made by SJCAM. The first two are actually in an original form factor and performed admirably for their generation and at their price point. But, the form factors are both a bit awkward and not quite as polished as products made by companies with better R&D budgets. As a result, they ditched their designs and went with what works: first, they copied the Sony Action Cam, and then the GoPro.

I’d hazard that the effort spared on designing their own form factor left them with more to put into the specs, which is really the only thing that matters. That said, I really liked their SJ2000 form factor and would have liked to have seen them develop it toward a truly original price competitor rather than a cheap knock-off.

Video quality is good. In sunlight at 1080p, it’s close enough to the big brand action cameras that one hardly notices any difference. Details are crisp, motion is decently smooth thanks to the software image stabilization, and colors are decent. Nothing mind blowing, but more than capable even for some professional uses. (I cut footage from the FauxPro in with my GH3 with only minimal color level tweaks and it looked pretty good). I am not quite otaku enough to be able to quantify it exactly, but I reckon this camera delivers approximately 80% of the GoPro’s video quality at 1080p 30fps, which is great value for the price.

The FauxPro does lack some of its inspiration’s shooting modes and slow motion, but for most action cam needs it’s more than plenty. The two things that the FauxPro does seem to struggle with, compared to pricier options, are dynamic range and exposure adjustment, especially in the evening. While does a good job setting the right exposure for the environment, it often leaves the orange sunsets on pre-dusk bike rides completely blown out. To be fair, while pricer action cams are better at this, no camera with sensors as small as this will ever be able to handle DR all that well, so take it with a drop of soy sauce.

The FauxPro comes boxed with a massive selection of accessories. there is a flat adhesive mount, curved helmet mount, 2 different stems to clip into, 90 degree elbows, a bike handlebar clip, tripod screw adapter, safety lines, and extra 3m adhesive tape and zipties. With the exception of a suction cup mount, you basically have everything you could possibly need to attach it to whatever you want and get on with shooting.

I personally despise how most common mounts for the big-brand action cameras are optional extras, costing far more than they are worth, that force consumers to shell out a lot of extra cash just for flexibility. Yes, the more exotic mounting options should be an extra purchase, but what the FauxPro comes bundled with should be the baseline standard across all brands of action camera. When you lose them (as I have), you can always use actual GoPro mounts or the cheap unbranded versions thereof.

Menus on the LCD are easy to navigate and changing modes and settings is quick and intuitive. It also really helps when framing your shots. There were a few times when, if I did the GoPro’s point-and-pray method, the shots wouldn’t have turned out nearly as well as they did. It’s also good for checking footage that you can’t re-frame on the fly to make sure it turned out right – without needing to download the footage. This allows you to go out and do it again if you want. And hell, it HAS an LCD where the GoPro doesn’t, which is a big plus in my book.

Another thing the FauxPro has that the GoPro doesn’t is a dashcam setting. With this activated, plug the camera into a USB car-charging adapter, and when the car starts up, it will start recording – and it will stop when you turn off the engine. It will also constantly draw power from the USB port, meaning that the only limit to the amount you can shoot is the size of your SD card.

You can also choose to have the date and time superimposed on the footage so when you hit a fixie-riding hipster who claim that its drivers, not their own disregard for the rules of the road that get them run over.

Very decent video quality aside, the FauxPro does show its price in areas such as build quality, the LCD display, audio capture, and what is basically a vestigial still-camera mode.

I’ve read forum comments commending the build given the camera’s price, but having been lucky enough to fondle a great many high-end devices from the big names in Japanese electronics, to me, the FauxPro feels decidedly cheap. The plastic feels like plastic… in a bad way. The soft touch coating began peeling away from the corners within a week. The buttons click well enough, but over time I found that the front power button sometimes doesn’t register unless I really press firmly. There was also a period of time when the camera refused to connect to my computer. It eventually just started working again, but for a period of time it was charge-only, offering none of the usual connection options (of course I tried different cables, switching ports, going through a hub… elementary troubleshooting is elementary).

It is again a great selection of mounts provided along with the camera’s waterproof case, but the plastic does feel quite a bit cheaper than the camera it resembles. There is a lot more creaking and flex from just about everything, and though they do hold the camera firmly in place, they don’t inspire much confidence. On the bright side, the FauxPro can use GoPro mounts, so if they do eventually give out, you can replace them or choose from the massive selection of third party options.

The rear display does its job, but it has terrible color representation, massive pixels, and is just not particularly good in general. In truth, it doesn’t need to be, and it helps keep costs down, and I’m low on bad things to say about the FauxPro, so nitpicking will have to do.

Sound quality is pretty bad. All action cams are essentially crap in this department, but the FauxPro is particularly so. It doesn’t bother me so much because I’d likely be cutting the footage with music or as b-roll with proper sound being recorded elsewhere, but If capturing as-good-as-possible quality sound with your action camera is something you really want to do, the Faux Pro is not the camera to do it.

The FauxPro can shoot still photos, but they are essentially 12 megapixel (4032 x 3024) snaps. The wide angle lens makes for some nice, albeit slightly distorted shots, and the colors are decent, but like the video, dynamic range is quite poor. You can use the 4x digital zoom if you need to get a little closer, and on the tiny rear display the shots look pretty good. View them on a computer however and your eyes will bleed. Really, the FauxPro is not meant to be a still camera so it doesn’t really matter.

The Verdict: While it looks like a GoPro, the SJ4000 is not quite up to par in the specs department, and if you want the creative options that come with higher frame rates then you should save up for a branded original. If, however, you can live with 80% of the video quality at 1080p 30fps, and want a good selection of mounts without having to pay prices that make bottled water look reasonable, honestly, you can’t go wrong with the SJ4000.

It’s a spectacular value for the price, and, because it’s so cheap, you’d be less likely to baby it and more likely to actually put it in harm’s way and end up with more spectacular videos. If it breaks or gets lost, it will hit your wallet a lot less.

The only real problem the SJ4000 has is that it looks so much like the GoPro that many people are going to mistake it for one and you’d need to, “Well actually…” them fairly often. If you’re using it for an action sport that’s more about looking cool and being fashionable than the actual sport (like snowboarding), people may think less of you for it, but you’ll have enough extra cash to hit the slopes a few more times than those who shell out for the real deal.

The fact that it can double as a dashcam, for me, is gravy… just need to get my Nissan Silvia, and its dash, to the big city.

(Reviewed by Nayalan Moodley)

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